One of the most common questions among soon-to-be thruhikers is, “how much will it cost me?” Before my hike, I read many first-hand accounts to try and get a good estimate of what to expect. And, as usual, I thought that I’d be different. I’m a responsible 30-something adult that can manage my own family’s finances, not to mention those of multi-million dollar projects at work all the time … I think I know how to plan a hiking budget, right? Wrong again.
The generic advice I gained from former hikers and experts was pretty simple – expect to spend approximately $1000 a month. This estimate was based on the rudimentary costs of $20 a day on food, $100 for every town stop, and $1000 for replacing shoes and miscellaneous gear items. The basic math for a 5-month hike with approximately 1 town stop per week could then be: (20×150)+(100×22)+1000 = 3000+2200+1000 = $6,200.
The Process: That felt high to me, and I’m far too OCD to allow such a high-level estimate to be my budget planning process, so instead I went full crazy on it (as usual). For a guy that planned out every day’s distance and destination, I doubt anyone was surprised that my Hike Plan also included a breakdown of realistic anticipated costs each day as well. Pretty Hello Neiman! of me, if I do say so myself.
Long story short (too late), my initial plan estimated the expected costs each day for food (both my pre-packed boxes and town resupply), hostels/hotels, and meals when in a trail town. After hours upon hours of spreadsheet and data model building (fun for all ages), I came up with the much more detailed and accurate estimate of $5,066. Once I added the $1000 for planned gear/shoes, I came to a grand total of … $6,066.
Oh for f*cks sake! That was a complete waste of time, wasn’t it! Ah, who am I kidding, it was fun. Completely unnecessary, but fun nonetheless. See kids, you can use that high-school math for just as useless problem-solving in the real world too.
The Result: Ok, so my budget broke down to approximately $1000 a month, just as I was told it would. But how did the actual monthly expenses compare? Let’s look at the results month by month…
- March: $1,200
- April: $1,500
- May: $1,400
- June: $1,700
- July: $1,100
As was also warned by past thruhikers, I went over my budget. There are a lot of reasons for this … the allure of burgers and beer, extra zero days due to cold weather, expensive gear failures, etc. There’s no shortage of excuses, only the reality of my credit card statement. Hiking the Appalachian Trail for 5 months is an expensive endeavor, and every future hiker should be realistic about what it will cost them. Besides injury, the most common reason a hiker quits the AT is that they simply just run out of money. I saw it first hand, and now I understand why.
The Conclusion: The truth is, I could have spent less. You always can, of course. But at what other cost? Sure, I could have spent more nights camping in the snow, I could have skipped restaurants for ramen, and I could have forced my gear to last with duct tape and thread, padding, and an excellent MacGyver’ability … but that would have made it a much less enjoyable experience. I desperately needed those Yuengs ‘n Wings, that stay at Mountain Garden Hostel, and a backpack that actually fit me.
The good news is, this hike has the magical ability to just let your neuroses go, and just enjoy the experience of walking. It would be a terrible thing to waste the joy of hiking this scenic trail due to fear of spending. Of course, not everyone is fortunate enough to have that luxury. My best advice is to be realistic and to do what every good management consultant does … add a contingency of 20% to your budget.
Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!